- Review Date: 05/20/11
- Bottom line:
This pocket camera comes with compromises, but a $90 price tag and dead-simple operation help balance the Canon PowerShot A800's lack of optical image stabilization and HD-video capture.
Inexpensive under-$100 price. Sharp photos. Simple to operate.
Lacks optical image stabilization. No high-def video capture. Low-resolution LCD.
At $89.99 (list) the 10-megapixel PowerShot A800 is the least-expensive digital camera Canon sells. Unsurprisingly, this pocket shooter lacks in features, but it covers the basics, and there's something to be said for its simple experience. It also delivers good, clean, sharp images, along with solid speeds. So far, so good. Then you get to what's missing: a high-res LCD, a rechargeable battery, and high-def video. But the biggest problem is the camera's lack of optical image stabilization, which can mean blurry pictures.
Sure, the A800 will outperform, say, your cell phone's integrated camera, offering better-looking and higher-res still images, along with a further-reaching 3.3x optical zoom lens. But if you can afford it, you should step up to a digital camera that offers optical image stabilization, like the Canon PowerShot A3000 IS ($149.99, 4 stars) or the General Electric E1480W ($169.99, 3 stars).
Shaped like a trapezoid with rounded edges, the A800 is a bit thicker on the right side, creating a comfortable mini-grip. The camera will slip into your pocket without a problem, but, at 2.43 by 3.71 by 1.23 inches (HWD), it's on the husky side when compared with other pocket cameras.
One of the most obvious $90-camera compromises is the A800's LCD. At 2.5 inches, it's small, which is bearable, but it's filled with just 115K dots. Most pocket camera displays offer at least 230K dots for a much sharper image. The display is bright and it's fine for framing your shots, just know it's a lower-quality screen.
The camera also lacks scene modes, manual modes, and the like. Your options consist of zooming and turning the flash and timer on or off, while in automatic mode with face detection. Of course, simple can be good for inexperienced users, and this camera caters to that crowd.
Unlike with a cell phone, the A800 offers optical zoom. The 3.3x zoom lens' focal length spans 37-122mm, with a corresponding aperture of f/3-f/5.8. Like a cell phone, the A800 lacks optical image stabilization, which can be the deal breaker here. If you're shooting outside or in very bright environments, you'll be using fast shutter speeds which typically don't require much stabilization. As soon as lighting is less than ideal, though, your images are susceptible to blur. If your camera moves at all, optical image stabilization corrects for that movement so your picture doesn't turn out blurry. Without it, motion from you or your subjects can lead to a noisy, blurry photos.Performance
The A800 isn't painfully slow, but it's no speed demon. The camera can power on and shoot in an average of 2.4 seconds, and individual there's an average of 0.6 seconds of shutter lag (the time between shutter press and image capture) with each shot. Wait time between shots is a bit lengthy, at 3.4 seconds. If you want a faster shooting experience, step up to the Canon PowerShot 300 HS ($249.99, 4 stars), which can boot and shoot in an average of 2.03 seconds and averages just 2.18 seconds between shots, with a 0.5-second shutter lag.
In the PCMag labs we use the Imatest suite to collect objective information about image quality. In terms of sharpness, the A800 offered a center-weighted average of 2,176 lines per picture height. That's a fantastic score—especially for an under-$100 camera. The Editors' Choice Kodak EasyShare M580 ($199.95, 4 stars), which is more than twice the price, scored lower at 2,127. Noise levels in test images were also low, as long the camera was set below ISO 400.
The A800 captures 640-by-480, standard-definition video footage. If you care at all about recording and sharing video, you should opt for a camera with HD-video capture and an integrated HDMI port so you can connect the camera to an HDTV for playback. But that feature can jack the price of the camera up to at least twice the price of the A800. Again, you get what you pay for here.
The camera saves images to SDHC and SD cards, and is powered by two (included) AA batteries. It's very rare to see camera without a rechargeable battery these days. Of course, you could just buy rechargeable AA batteries for the A800. And for some, it's handy to be able to duck into a drug store to buy replacement cells when you need them.
With an under-$100 price, the Canon PowerShot A800 is not without its fair share of compromises. If you can't live without image stabilization—and I'm not sure you should—save up for the Canon PowerShot A3000 IS. If you want HD video capture and optical image stabilization, get out your wallet for the Canon PowerShot 300 HS or the Kodak M580, which you can find for about $130 these days.